Shift capitalism

IssueNovember 2012
Feature by Peter Robinson

Let us agree about climate change. It is happening fast, potentially spiralling out of control. The latest messages from scientists who have been measuring the shrinking arctic ice cap demonstrate that the situation is dire.

However, our problem is that very few people are heeding the climate threat. 

It has been said that the environmental and climate movement is the 'largest mass movement ever' (Paul Hawken in Blessed Unrest, Penguin 2007). Maybe. But the movement is extremely fragmented and introverted. Discussions about personal life styles and behaviour change can distance those people who need a car in order to go to work and haven't got time or a plot to grow their own food.

Then there is what sometimes seems to be another movement: the trade unions with their proud tradition of defending jobs, wages and conditions at work. This too is under the cosh. As people lose and chase jobs they lose pride, confidence and belief in change. Nevertheless the unions are still here with a total of about 6.5 million members. 


There is often a gap between the labour movement (with its emphasis upon growth) and the green movement (with its stress upon reducing consumption). We want to marry the two traditions.

The Alliance for Jobs and Climate, formerly known as the Climate Alliance, was founded earlier this year at a meeting in parliament, chaired by Caroline Lucas MP. We are pulling together public and private sectors, trade unions and business, the Occupy movement and faith groups, environmentalists and entrepreneurs, young people and academics into a mass movement to end austerity. We have gained experience promoting issues and campaigns with climate and jobs dimensions, such as the 'Save the Forests', Zero Carbon Britain, Bombardier and the 'Million Climate Jobs Caravan'.

The Alliance argues we can only get out of the current mess through massive public and private investment in decent jobs and a low carbon economy. Only jobs can generate the private income and public tax revenues needed to pay the huge debts generated by an out-of-control global financial system. 
As John Maynard Keynes said: 'Look after employment, and the budget will take care of itself'. Keynes was right. But he didn't have to take into account man-made climate change. We have to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to keep our planet safe and habitable for 'the 100%'. Another supporter of capitalism, sir Nicholas Stern, then head of the Government Economic Service and an adviser to the government on the economics of climate change and development, put it with stark simplicity: 'Climate change is the greatest example of market failure we have ever seen.'

That was in 2006. Clearly the faster we make the changes needed, the cheaper and more effective they will be; and the more secure our land, families and communities will be. 

We need to recognise the enormous scale of the challenge and stand up together. 

The Alliance follows in the tradition of social movements, with their many facets, including personal acts, boycotts, political lobbying, demonstrations, direct actions, strikes and so on.

Social movements are distinct from political parties in the sense that they are inclusive, and unlike political parties cannot discipline or limit the inclusion and activities of supporters – beyond demanding support for the limited principles (for example, opposition to apartheid, support for women's rights) that drive forward the social movement. 

The Alliance for Jobs and Climate is setting out to unite the 99% around two fundamental demands:

  • massive investment in jobs
  • massive investment in renewable energy.

We are building a simple movement for structural change with a clear vision, goals and tactics that are understandable to all. It is great to be able to remind people there is a vibrant section of people, mainly youth and often dispossessed, who are highlighting the inequities of the banking and financial system. There is no point investing in jobs to secure our economic future without tackling the threat of climate change.

Building a national movement cannot just happen from above. There are already a handful of local networks that are involved in jobs and climate issues (see for example those in Sheffield, Derby and Kirklees). We actively promote their development and are urging readers of Peace News to set up local alliances. 

Social movements emerge in all sorts of ways, and are rightly unpredictable. We must keep working to show how the different components inter-relate, and that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts, so that the maximum amount of political pressure can be exerted to bring about change. The movement must negotiate and channel these energies into effective action. So we are driven by actions, ways of bridging the gaps, around the two demands. At the same time we want to inspire people with a vision, that it is possible to have a society in which everybody can work and that economic activity can be powered entirely by renewable energies.

For the next three years the Alliance is running the SHIFT campaign. Go and have a look at the exciting new website.

What we can do for you

  • Focus jobs and climate energies into the SHIFT campaign
  • Add energy, scale and momentum to existing campaigns
  • Support local events through a national network
  • Coordinate responses to external events
  • Provide regular updates and event invitations
  • Develop forums for development of action and policy
  • Help you tap into local expertise and gain inspiration.
  • Provide a guide to building your own networks and alliances
  • Give advice on how to align your local groups to the Alliance

What you can do for us

Invest in the SHIFT: a mass collaboration and mobilisation to deliver a power shift for the 99%, for a future that works and that doesn't cost the earth.